Southern Spotlight · Travel

Winter Getaway: St. Thomas, USVI

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Few things look as inviting as turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and lush green palm trees during the dead of winter.  While the majority of the US is a frozen tundra, let’s take a mental vacay to the sunshine-drenched US Virgin Islands.

St. Thomas (STT) is an easy 2.5 hour flight from Miami International Airport (MIA) – a flight that’s as enjoyable as its destination, if you can score a window seat.  From the air, you can see the Bahamas, possibly a spot of Cuba in the distance, Puerto Rico and a plethora of other islands dotting the Caribbean along the way.  The colors of the water are breathtaking.  We flew above a rainstorm, and I spotted a rainbow from the air.  Can you imagine seeing a rainbow from above?  It was truly spectacular!

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One of the great things about visiting St. Thomas is that it is a US territory – so for us Americans, getting to and from the island is a breeze.  We don’t have to change our currency, we don’t have to worry about power converters, we don’t have to familiarize ourselves with a new language, and we don’t even have to bring our passport (although I would HIGHLY recommend taking it along so you can catch a quick ferry to the beautiful British Virgin Islands for a little day trip).

Upon landing at STT, you’re greeted by a platter of Cruzan banana rum shots and a blast of sweet, balmy tropical air.  Pick up your luggage and a rental car – now you’re on your way.  The roads are a little intimidating because of the layout of the island – it’s steep and windy and crowded – and they drive on “the other side of the road.”  Most rental properties will send a guide to meet you at the airport and escort you to your property.  They do this because the roads and houses aren’t clearly marked on the island.

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St. Thomas is the lush, tropical paradise dreams are made of.  Filled with coconut-bearing palm trees, hot pink bougainvillea and warm trade winds, you literally feel stress melting away in the Caribbean sun!

There are touristy places on the island if you’re looking for a more active scene, but there is plenty of privacy as well.  My preference is to rent a house with a private pool and an ocean view, and I like to spend the majority of my time there with my husband and the family or friends we travelled with.

My perfect day involves waking up early to see the sun over Hans Lollik, Jost van Dyke and Tortola (BVI) in the east.  I like to then go for a walk around the neighborhood where I’m staying and stop to photograph they beautiful scenery around me.  After a leisurely walk, I’ll sit on the balcony and sip coffee, read a good book and just generally take in the views.

Spend a few hours laying by the pool and soaking up some sunshine, then take a drive to a local market and get lunch.  The best-kept secrets of the island are the little markets – they may look like run-down, hole-in-the-wall type places, but I’m telling you, they have the BEST food.  My favorite one of these markets is called Mandhal Market, and it’s near the north side of the island.  There is a nice lady who cooks authentic Caribbean food there daily.  She says that every day is different – it all depends on what fresh ingredients she can get that day.  We tried chicken stew (bone-in chicken in a stew with various vegetables, served over a bed of spicy yellow rice) and crispy, fried red snapper – the fish was whole, skin and eyes and all – but we decided to take her advice and peel it apart like she showed us, and it was delicious!  We ate at several restaurants near Charlotte Amalie, but nothing can compare to the authentic food you get at the roadside markets.

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The rest of my ideal STT afternoon would involve visiting Maegan’s Bay beach, having a Rum Runner or two at the beach bar there, then heading back to the house and spending the sunset by the pool, grilling freshly caught mahi or snapper.

Our house had incredible sweeping views of St. John, Tortola, Jost van Dyke and the Hans Lollik islands.  It was spectacular.  The channel between St. Thomas and Hans Lollik (the island you see in the picture above) is a very popular migration route for humpback whales during the late winter/early spring.

DSC_1149 DSC_1134 DSC_1097    DSC_0981 DSC_0964 DSC_0914 DSC_0905 One of my greatest recommendations for a St. Thomas trip would be to go deep sea fishing.  It is so much fun!  It’s also a great opportunity to see the island from a new perspective and you can even learn a lot about the local culture from your guide.  We used Captain Alvin Fishing Charters, and it did not disappoint.  Captain Alvin will take you in-shore or off-shore fishing, and he knows all the secret fishing spots around the USVI.

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Regardless of what you do in St. Thomas, the most important thing is to enjoy the beautiful scenery and have fun!  It is the most gorgeous place – and not all that far away from the continental US.  We have such a spectacular world – we need to enjoy it to the fullest!

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